“Once upon a time ships were beautiful and people lost their hearts to them.” Stanley Steward
Nothing truer than that! Ships were beautiful and sexy and sleek and curvaceous at the same time! And strong and rigid man-of-war with their own idiosyncrasies! And, they were pushing the limits of ship-wrighting, naval architecture and navigation! And, they were not only merchants’ tools for trade but also ‘vessels’ bringing closer cultures with their stories from lands faraway existing only in dreamland of the average peasant of centuries past. And, with their towering masts, sails full of wind and sleek silhouettes on the sea horizon, riding fast of foaming waves, they seemed like they were reaching up to the divine skies to make the best of the winds and also reaching out to the end of the world, to the boundaries of human skill and experience and knowledge! And, yes, they were beautiful silhouettes full of passion that could reach people’s hearts!
What got us so nostalgic has been a recent article in the Financial Times of the legendary sailing yacht S/Y „Sea Cloud” and her present owners recent decision that next year she will be offering pleasure cruising only under the power of the wind and her sails, without having to depend on present-day diesel engines at all.
That will be a cruise down memory lane to different times and customs: the yacht was built in 1931 in Kiel, Germany, at Krupp Germaniawerft, to the orders of the breakfast cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post and her husband at the time, Edward Hutton, a New York stockbroker. She was a windjammer with four masts and 30,000 sq.ft. of canvas, originally named S/Y „Hussar”, built at the peak of the Great Depression and when the steam engine was the new standard in yachting and shipping. After a few years of happy sailing in the Caribbean, the proud yacht moved under her present name S/Y „Sea Cloud” to Leningrad and the Baltic Sea, where Marjorie Post and her new husband, American diplomat Joseph Davies, were based. The royalty and the high society of the time from the Soviet Union and adjacent countries had been known to have boarded the yacht on occasion, luminaries like the Soviet politician Molotov, the King of Sweden, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, the Queen of Belgium, and the oppressive President of the Dominican Republic, Rafael Leonidas Trujillo.
From 1942 to 1945, the yacht was chartered to the US Navy for $1 per annum, had her four masts removed and painted battleship grey, to serve as a ‘weather observation station vessel’, in the North Atlantic. The vessel has been the first vessel in the US Navy where racial desegregation took place in early 1944, and she was decommissioned later in the same year earning two medals, the WW II Victory Medal and the American Campaign Medal, and $175,000 compensation from the US government to bring her to her original appearance.
It took four years to re-rig the vessel, and by now Marjorie Post was on to her next marriage and facing difficulties keeping up with the 72-crew payroll. Great effort was placed to sell the vessel among the glitterati who had boarded her before, and our old friend from the Dominican Republic Rafael Trujillo bought the vessel, re-named her after his daughter S/Y „Angelita”, kept her for a while as a government office but mostly allowed his son Ramfis to take the vessel to Santa Monica, California where he was attempting to study law; however, soon the vessel got the reputation (euphemistically) for a ‘floating fun house’ for Hollywood starlets. When in 1961 Trujillo the president of the Dominican Republic was assassinated, the family along with the state bullion and the corpse onboard attempted unsuccessfully to escape to Europe after making it all the way to the Canary Islands.
The yacht had a difficult decade thereafter with serious neglect, and faced obsolesce on occasion, now named S/Y „Patria”, and eventually was sold Operation Sea Cruises and was re-named S/Y „Antama”, and then sold once again. This time the vessel was used as an ‘oceanic school’ vessel sailing worldwide for training young cadets in seamanship, but rumors surfaced that the actual business behind it was for drug trafficking. After several more years of legal disputes and neglect, German Hartmut Paschberg acquired the vessel and in 1978, and had in the original shipyard that had built her in Kiel in 1931 (now named Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft) bring her to her original glory and convert her to a cruiseship with sixty-four passenger capacity. The vessel was undergone additional renovations in 2011 and has been voted as the ‘most romantic sailing ship in the world’. The vessel trades under Sea Cloud Cruises house flag, subsidiary of Hansa Treuhand based in Hamburg. And, of course, she has her very own corner in Hamburg’s Maritime Museum.
Yes, ships are beautiful, lovable, sexy sweet things that have been stealing our hearts for ages and excite passion and action. Just think about the story of the S/Y „Sea Cloud” – the people and cultures she touched, the people who touched her and caressed her teakwood, the passengers who had a great time on her and the shipbuilders agonizing about her lines…Never a doubt that ships are beautiful, yesterday and today …
© 2013 Basil M Karatzas & Karatzas Marine Advisors & Co. All Rights Reserved.
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